Modal verbs for possibility

Hi everyone!

I hope you’re enjoying the final days of May and are all prepared to welcome June next week! With June, along come the exams and we know that one of those tricky areas that worry our students the most are often modal verbs. Today we’re solving your doubts!

Almost any modal verb in English can be used for either possibility or probability. However, we tend to frequently use the following:

percentage_modals

As we can see in the picture above, we use must to indicate that we’re 95% sure of something. This use of the modal verb must is also know as “Sherlock Holmes’ logical deduction” since that’s how we reach our conclusion. For example:

Peter: “Sally is late, that’s not like her. She’s always the first one here!”

Mary: “She must be working late”

In the example above, we use must because, although we are not 100% sure of what happened to Sally, we assume that she had an unexpected problem.

Now imagine that I have no idea of what happened:

Peter: “Sally is late, that’s not like her. She’s always the first one here!”

Mary: “She could be working late or she may be in a traffic jam”

Now, I am conveying the idea that I don’t know what the reason why Sally is late. I am simply speculating about the possible reasons for her delay, that’s why I use could and may (both 50% chance)

Now, take a look at the following sentences, what modal verb should you use: must, can’t, could, may or might? Remember! You may need to use the modals in the past! If you can’t remember the structures check our “Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” post.

  1. John __________________ (have) an excellent English teacher because he used to hate the subject, but now he loves it!
  2. The train hasn’t arrived yet. It ______________ (cancel) or it _________________ (delay).
  3. The clothes I hung up in the morning have already dried, it ____________________ (be) a really hot day!
  4. I _______________ (go) to the cinema with you tomorrow, but I’m not sure yet.
  5. Someone’s knocking on the door. – I wonder who that is, it ______________ (be) James, hes’s in Manchester today

Do you want to know the answers? Scroll down to check!

analysis blackboard board bubble
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

  1. John must have an excellent English teacher because he used to hate the subject, but now he loves it!
  2. The train hasn’t arrived yet. It could / may/ might have been cancelled or it could / may/ might have been delayed.
  3. The clothes I hung up in the morning have already dried, it must have been a really hot day!
  4. may/could/might go to the cinema with you tomorrow, but I’m not sure yet.
  5. Someone’s knocking on the door. – I wonder who that is, it can’t be James, he’s in Manchester today.

 

How did it go? If you have any questions, leave a comment below! Have the best end of May!

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